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London to Paris Ride, July 2016

Day One: Bexley to Dover.

After a long, hot drive up from Falmouth the previous day, it was a relief to get started, along with seventy other riders at 0630. The first part of the route out of London was a bit nerve racking, not helped by seeing someone up front take a heavy fall off her bike when another rider piled into her at a sudden stop. Her elbow injury looked nasty and was a problem for her for the entire ride. Luckily nothing else happened before we reached our lunch stop at an attractive old pub with lovely gardens, and weeping willows over a stream. The buffet was just right, and feeling well fed, we pressed on, somewhere in the middle of the group, often with us four pink Wheelers fairly close together, with Sonjia in front, followed by Paula, Jo, and Liz bringing up the rear! Fellow riders varied from speedy to quite slow. The only hazard during the ride through peaceful Kent country side, past old timber framed houses, oast- towers and fields of barley, was a gritty lane with some soft sandy patches that were lethal to ride across; it was difficult not to skid and one girl came down hard, suffering some nasty grazes. But for most of us, all went well and by 1630 we were approaching Dover, after a short stop for more snacks. Cycling through Dover to the docks was fairly horrendous – Liz came close to disaster when a car cut her off by inches at a junction – it was a relief to join the queue to get onto the ferry; another long wait with at least three other charity rides heading the same way. A meal on the ferry and a twilight 2k to the (rather tatty) hotel went without incident except for some unexpected railway lines bringing down Paula’s friend Karrie; more bruises. At least we were in Calais!   75 miles. Elevation: +1150 / - 1152m

Day Two: Calais to Abbeville.

Setting out from Calais, we followed the road by a canal for several miles, which turned into more undulating country side, with rolling hills and small dense forests. The golden fields of wheat seemed to go on for miles and smelt wonderful; where hay had been cut the huge circular bales lay in the sunshine – no black plastic here. Every day the sun shone, and we all agreed the ride would have been very different, and much more challenging, in wet weather. It was hot but not unbearably so; plenty of water and lots of sunscreen kept us going. Lunch at Montreuil consisted of chicken and chips (chips again!) and there was some concern when it transpired that one of the riders was lost; he’d missed the yellow arrow and sped southwards for another 18k, so agreed to meet us later. Leading seventy independently-minded cyclists is like herding cats… At last we arrived in Abbeville, where the budget hotel was fine – we all had our own rooms, but the steak at dinner was so tough it was inedible; luckily the salad bar starter and typically French dessert – small and chocolaty – made up for it. 78 miles. Elevation: + 1291 / - 1238 m

Day Three: Abbeville to Beauvais.

Soon after leaving Abbeville we crossed over the river Somme and into the Picardie countryside. The tour notes describe it as ‘tranquil, the quietest time of the whole ride’ and so it was, with the roads lined with poppies and brilliant blue cornflowers. It wasn’t difficult to enjoy the stunning scenery as the road surface was excellent, smooth and not a pot hole to be seen….bliss! Our first water stop was on the grass under the towering spire of a large church - even the smallest villages have big churches - and lunch was at a small café where they somehow managed to feed all of us, as we arrived over the course of an hour or so, with a tasty bowl of pasta. Back on the bikes and another 20k to another water stop, once again under willow trees and next to a stream. At each stop there was a chance to fill our bottles and eat some snacks. No excuse for getting dehydrated or hungry. We had thought that the stops might be too frequent and too long, but in fact they were just right; a chance to stretch and walk around, and chat to the others, even if you didn’t need food or water. By 5pm we were approaching Beauvais, where once again the budget hotel was in an industrial estate, but the excellent buffet dinner at a local restaurant was pig-heaven; all you could eat salad and seafood bar, wine and beer on tap, calorific desserts, even a chocolate fountain – and after a day’s cycling, including some hills (although never as steep as we have here in Cornwall) - why shouldn’t you indulge! 75 miles. Elevation: +1078 / -1059 m

Day Four: Beauvais to Paris.

With all the bags loaded onto the truck, it was another 0730 start on the final leg to Paris. More rolling countryside, a couple of water stops, and lunch at L’Oasis in Chanteloup-les-Vignes; true to its name it served Moroccan food, couscous with vegetables and plates of chicken and lamb on the side. As we left there were more problems; the smaller van wouldn’t start, a phone was lost, but we carried on, with busy main roads and cycle tracks through woodland. At this point we were all asked to wear our blue Classic Tours teeshirts to make us easily identifiable from the other groups converging on Paris. This turned out to be really helpful in the last few miles of city traffic and frequent red lights, which stopped some of the group and not others. For cyclists used to Cornwall, the last few miles were the most stressful of the whole trip – for Liz, anyway! The Bois de Boulogne park with its cycleways through the trees was a bit more relaxing, and soon we were crossing the Seine to finish at the Eiffel Tower, where we were greeted with a plastic cup of champagne! and took lots of photos. 59 miles. Elevation: +947 / - 998 m

We had cycled nearly 280 miles over four days, and felt a great sense of achievement on completing the challenge. None of us had any problems other than some soreness, and the bikes held up very well; in fact over the whole group there were only three or four punctures. The support team was excellent; Gideon, the tour manager gave us clear instructions at frequent intervals; the bright yellow signage was very good; organisation of rooms and other details, by Natalie the Classic Tours rep, mostly went fine; Gary the mechanic was there to deal with any problems and keep everyone rolling, and Sarah the tour doctor had a huge bag of first aid items and pills for any ailments. We felt very well looked after and thoroughly enjoyed the ride; we were waving the flag for Cornwall and the Wheelers, and it was very satisfying to be told ‘you pink ladies from Falmouth fly up the hills!’

One of the main purposes of the ride was to raise money for charity, and although all four of us were self-funded, we were all supporting different good causes. The seventy riders were raising money for thirty charities, and £50,000 had already been pledged by the time we arrived in Paris. We spent the last day exploring the city on foot, and no, we didn’t see the Tour finish, as we had to be back at the hotel and ready to board the bus for the station, just as the riders were doing their laps round the Champs-Elysees, but watching on a big TV was better than nothing…then it was onto the Eurostar and back to London, with our bikes going ahead of us in the truck. Altogether a wonderful five days!

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